August Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – 4.5*

//published 2003//

I first read this book when it was published, and it’s one of those rare nonfiction books that I find myself returning to every few years.  Truss is just  so funny.  She tells you in the beginning how to tell if you’ll enjoy her book (have  you ever felt an overwhelming compulsion to add a missing apostrophe to a sign??) and goes on from there.  This isn’t an in-depth study of punctuation, but it is a delightful scamper through the high points of punctuation history and usage.  I always especially love the way she compares commas to border collies (gently herding phrases and words where they need to go), and her passion for apostrophes (so simple to use, yet so frequently maligned).

If you are even a bit of a punctuation freak, this is definitely worth a read.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – 4*

//published 1949//

I’m still slowly working my way through all of Goudge’s books. While Gentian Hill is probably my least favorite of her books that I’ve read so far, it was still beautifully written.  It’s historical fiction, so it’s a bit different from her other books, and it was rather fun to read a book set during the Napoleonic Wars that focused more on “regular” folk instead of the aristocracy.  The language throughout was beautiful as always, and there were many wonderful themes.  The main reason I wrestled with this book is because of how young Stella is when Zachary meets her and knows that she is going to be his wife someday.  I’ll grant that Zachary is also young(ish), but it still felt weird, even though it wasn’t completely unusual for women to get married in their mid-teens at the time.  Still, Goudge handles that all deftly – it never felt like Zachary was a creeper in any way, and I honestly did want them to end up together.  I just felt like the whole story would have read better if Stella had been a couple of years older when they met.

Overall, I still did enjoy this book a great deal, even though I didn’t find it to be an instant classic as I have with many of Goudge’s other books.

Gentian Hill was read #10 for #20BooksofSummer.

You Don’t Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – 4*

//published 2018//

This is the latest installment of the Under Suspicion series, which I read last year.  The series centers on Laurie, who is the producer for a television show called Under Suspicion.  Each episode of the show looks at a cold case, inviting the people involved to tell their part of the story.  The concept is that the unsolved aspect of the story means that people close to the victim are still shadowed by the possibility that they could be the murderer.  I really enjoyed this series when I read it last year, mainly because Laurie is a great main character, and the authors have done an excellent job with the secondary characters as well.  In this book, I was glad to see Laurie’s romantic relationship progress happily.  The mystery was solid, although there was a weird secondary thing going on where Laurie was being stalked that felt superfluous to the main thrust of the story.

One of my biggest complaints about this story last year was how the host for Laurie’s show, Ryan, was the only stagnant character in the series.  The authors just made him into one giant stereotype and seemed to think that was good enough.  Consequently, I was delighted to see actual character growth in Ryan in this installment!  Brilliant!

Overall, these are great mysteries, and I’m hopeful that they will continue coming.

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1903//

Like most of Hill’s stories, this one was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I will say that I found it funny that I had just recently read Strawberry Girlset in early 1900’s Florida, and then it turns out that that was the same setting for this book as well!

This was my #11 read for #20BooksofSummer.

Shamed by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2019//

Earlier this year I devoured the entire Kate Burkholder series.  Set in Ohio’s Amish country, this is a great mystery series.  Kate grew up Amish and then left the community and eventually entered law enforcement.  When the series starts, Kate is the sheriff of the small town where she grew up, and also a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (“English”) communities.  I really, really like Kate a lot, which is a large part of why this series works for me.  Castillo also does a really excellent job in her portrayal of the Amish community, and I love the way that Kate is working through her heritage as well.

This particular installment was solid.  A woman is murdered and her granddaughter kidnapped – I loved the way that each chapter started with how many hours the girl had been missing; it really intensified the urgency of a missing child case.  Overall, the pacing was solid, although it felt like this book didn’t have as much of Kate’s personal life as some of the others have had, and I rather missed it.  All in all, I hope Castillo continues to write these books forever, as I really like them.

The Rosemary Tree // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1956//

I’m not sure how Goudge manages to make writing about everyday life, with virtually no drama, so entirely engrossing.  While The Rosemary Tree was not as thoroughly engaging as The Scent of Water (which remains one of the most magical books I have ever read), I was still completely drawn into the lives of the small group of people at the center of its story.

This is the story of a vicar named John, his wife Daphne, and their three little girls.  It is the story of John’s old nanny Harriet, and of John’s great aunt Maria, who still lives on the old estate and trying desperately to hold it together.  It is the story of Michael, a middle-aged man once full of promise but now learning to face his mistakes.  It is the story of a young Irish woman named Mary who teaches at a local school, and her coworker – an older and depressed woman – and the woman they work for: even older, and possibly even evil.  It’s the story of an elderly pig-keeper, of a monk, of the way different places make us feel.  It is a story of many strands of life coming together, of the way that life patterns weave us together, and of the great contentment that can come from understanding and accepting your place in it.  It is, in fact, a story of rosemary – of remembrance.

Like most of Goudge’s works, it is a gently religious story.  But Goudge’s characters rarely come to God quietly.  Instead, in a very human and realistic way, they rail against an all-powerful Being who doesn’t seem to greatly care about what is happening here. The honesty and poignancy of what Goudge has to say consistently blows my mind.  Everyone’s journey is different, and this isn’t the type of story where everyone comes to God and suddenly all their problems are miraculously cured.  Goudge has a knack for writing about human character, and our view of God, like no one else I’ve ever read.  She does it in such a way that I don’t hesitate to recommend her books to even those who are ambivalent towards religion – while religion is an important part of what she is writing, it never feels as though she is trying to convict or convert her readers.

Despite the fact that I should find Goudge’s writing quite boring – truly, nothing really happens in this book! – I could barely put it down.  I fell in love with every character in this book.  The story covers a few days where several lives intersect and impact one another, and it is done with an artist’s touch.  I even felt empathy and sorrow for the bad ones.  Goudge’s writing is such that characters I would despise in other stories – or real life! – somehow become more pitiful than anything, as the complete emptiness and pointlessness of their actions is revealed.

While I don’t feel the desperate urge to get this book into the hands of literally everyone, as I still do with The Scent of Water, this is still a worthwhile book.  Like Water, it is somehow refreshing and uplifting without being preachy.  Goudge is another author whose books I am slowly trying to find and read, and I’m happy to add this one to my permanent collection as I definitely see myself returning to it someday.

April Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me…

The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1964//

I really can’t believe that I never came across any of Goudge’s books as a child.  I had a very old-fashioned reading list, as my mom is an avid collector of old books (I come by it honestly), and I remember distinctly coming to a realization somewhere around middle school that nearly all of my favorite authors were long deceased.  This whole concept of finding an author who is still producing new things for me to read is kind of a crazy concept to me, actually.  :-D

Anyway, Goudge completely seems like someone my mother would love.  Her books are incredibly magical and perfect – gentle and kind.  There is no rush or slapdash action, but instead perfectly placed scenes and conversations, filled with characters one cannot help but love wholeheartedly.  I feel in love with every single person in The Runaways, even the bad guys.  This isn’t a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, or leaves you frantically turning the pages at 1am, but it is definitely a book I see myself returning to time and again, to immerse myself in the gentle and beautiful world of the young Linnets.  4.5/5

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1946//

Read The Runaways made me want to reread this one.  I had only read it once, a couple of years ago, and it was my first introduction to Goudge’s work.  (Her second book for me was The Scent of Waterwhich is one of the few books that I genuinely felt changed me as a person when I read it.)  The Little White Horse was just as delightful the second time around, with a heroine who isn’t quite perfect, and just enough magic to keep you wondering if this could really happen. 5/5

The Princess by Lori Wick

//published 1999//

I’m not going to lie.  This is one of my go-to books when I am in need of something relaxing.  This is definitely a love story that has very strong Christian themes throughout, but the story itself is strong enough that I think that even if hearing about prayer/God’s plan/etc. isn’t your thing, you would still enjoy it.  I love stories where people get married first, and then fall in love, and this is an all-time fave. 4.5/5

Come On, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody

//published 1963//

This is one of those random books I’ve had on my shelf forever, that I probably bought as a kid because it was about horses, especially since I went through a stage where I fascinated with racehorses in particular.  But somehow, I’ve only just gotten around to reading it – and it was actually a total win!  I was completely invested in Seabiscuit’s life. It’s hard to believe that Moody wasn’t just making things up, as this horse’s life was incredibly dramatic and full of excitement.  I had genuine tears in my eyes when Seabiscuit finally won the Santa Anita Handicap.  I know that just a few years ago someone else wrote a book about Seabiscuit that was made into a movie.  I never got around to either of those, but after reading this book – a somewhat brisk biography, since it was aimed at children – I think I’ll definitely find the newer book and see what other details there are to read.  Overall a surprisingly fun and fascinating read about a horse who overcame some amazing obstacles and the people who loved him.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

//published 1941//

Reading the book about Seabiscuit made me want to pick up this childhood classic right away.  The real-life build up of the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral (grandson and son of Man O’War) reminded me a LOT of the race build-up between Sun Raider and Cyclone (and later the Black) in Farley’s tale.  Interestingly enough, the real race took place in 1938, while Farley’s book was published in 1941 – so it’s quite possible that the similarities between the two match races wasn’t just in my imagination!

The Black Stallion has always been a favorite of mine, for reasons that I can’t even fully explain.  The characters aren’t terribly well developed and the whole plot is rather ridiculous, but I still love this book.  I love Alec and I love Henry and I love the Black and I love Tony and I love Alec’s parents and this whole book just makes me happy from beginning to end.  I reread this entire series several years ago, back when I was still on Tumblr, and the books sadly got progressively worse as the series went on (culminating in The Black Stallion Legendwhich was unreasonably depressing), so I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon, but this original story is, and always will be, a definitely favorite.

The Scent of Water // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1963//

Back in 2012 I read my first book by Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse.  I was completely blown away by the simple beauty of that story and resolved to read more of Goudge’s works.  Somehow, I’ve only just now gotten around to reading another of her books, and this one was just as beautiful, uplifting, and oddly challenging.

While The Little White Horse was a children’s book, The Scent of Water is regular adult fiction.  It is not a tale of high excitement, yet I found myself completely engrossed in this story every page of the way.  The main character is Mary Lindsay, middle-aged in 1950’s England.  She has just inherited a small cottage in a small village and although she has always been a city girl, she has decided to give country life a try.  Mary is vaguely discontented with herself, despite the fact that she has had a successful career and has maintained her independence.  Yet she feels that she is a ‘land-locked sea,’ and wonders why she has never ‘felt’ things the way that others seem to.  Her fiancee died in the war, and while she mourned him, she realized at the time that what she was truly mourning was the fact that she had never been able to love him the way that he loved her.

Now, as she comes to this cottage, she recognizes that she wishes to come to know two people, and both of them have already died: her fiancee, John; and her cousin, also named Mary Lindsay, who left her this cottage despite the fact that they only met once, when our Mary was a very young girl.

I’m not really sure that I can tell you what the ‘point’ of this story is.  Mary gradually gets to know the other people in the village.  It is a small community, and I found myself frequently thinking of a line from Velvet Pie that I have remembered all these years – ‘so many currents in such a small puddle.’  This is really a story of those currents, a recognition that even ‘unimportant’ people have lives, feelings, drama, joy, sorrow.  It is a book about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and yet so much more.

Goudge writes from a decidedly Christian perspective, but I think that it would be hard to be offended by her gentle, loving lessons that are revealed throughout.  Mary herself begins the story rather ambivalent towards God, and while she never has a moment of ‘conversion,’ as the story progresses, she begins to see the beauty and detail of life, and to believe that God Himself is weaving life together.

There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each.  They are these, ‘Lord have mercy.  Thee I adore.  Into Thy hands.’

I started with a library copy, but swiftly realized that this was a book I wanted to own, if for no other reason than so I could underline and mark various passages.  This was the first book that I have read in a long time that made me want to cry from the sheer beauty of it.

There seems to be a great trend in writing about people with mental illnesses, and I believe Goudge was far ahead of her time in her portrayal of Cousin Mary.  Her story, told through her journal entries, was heartbreaking and beautiful – hard, yet ultimately hopeful.  I loved that Cousin Mary never ‘solved’ her mental illness, but she did learn how to cope as best she can.

This is a story about love, and what that really means.  There are several examples of it throughout the story, and Goudge draws us into the conclusion that love is so much more than a mere feeling.  One of her characters writes in her journal,

I had not known before that love is obedience.  You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do.  And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings.  With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.

Yet despite the fact that I would say this is a story about love, it is not at all a love story.  Mary is not ‘rescued’ from her spinsterhood; she is still quite single at the end of the book, with no real reason to believe that that will change, and I loved that.  It was so refreshing to read a story about a woman in her fifties, contentedly and productively single, who stays that way!

There are several stories woven together in this narrative, but I believe my favorite was the beauty of Mary discovering just why her cousin had left her this home, and how her cousin had lived and suffered and learned.  There is this glorious revelation of the interconnectedness of life, a reminder of things and lessons and faith that we inherit from those who have come before us, and that we leave for those who come after.  Cousin Mary’s journal said,

Who will live after me in this house?  Who will sit in the little parlor reading by the fire?  And then she will put out her lamp and come up to this room and light the candles and kneel by the bed to pray.  I don’t know who she is but I loved her the moment I walked into this room, for that was a moment that was timeless.  I shall have my sorrows in this house, but I will pray for her that she may reap a harvest of joy.

I don’t feel as though I am expressing this book very well, and I also feel like I am making it far more religious than it was in the actual reading.  Just trust me on this: it is well worth the read.  The language is wonderful, the characters drawn so well, and the lessons produced so gently and thoughtfully that I have found myself thinking about this book a great deal, weeks after the reading of it.

It was also an interesting contrast, because I read this shortly after reading Dead End Closewhich I hated.  Yet, in its way, Dead End Close was a similar sort of story: a small community of individuals, delving into each of their lives, seeing how they are all connected, etc.  But where Dead End Close concludes that all people are base, evil, selfish, animalistic; Goudge concludes that there is hope for anyone and everyone who willing to reach out and realize that all of our lives connect; that there is no darkness that cannot be relieved.

The very title of her book comes from a passage in Job which she quotes in the front of the book:

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

The literal scent of water plays an important role in the story, a symbol of hope and life.  Goudge’s characters are not perfect – they don’t start that way, and they don’t end that way.  Yet somehow she portrays them in such a loving, generous light that I came to love even the unlikable ones.

All in all, The Scent of Water is one of those unexpected treasures that has immediately leaped onto my list of all-time favorite books.  It is absolutely beautiful, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Little White Horse

 

by Elizabeth Goudge

1946

Some fellow reader on tumblr recommended this book to me.  I wish that I could remember who, so that I could heartily thank them, because I loved every page of this book.  I really have no idea how to describe this book.  It was like a flower–beautiful, delicate, fragrant, old-fashioned, simple yet complex, uplifting.  Okay, so that’s a bit sappy, but still true.  This book was just wonderful.

I don’t really want to go into the storyline for fear of giving too much away, but I would like to note that I do not usually enjoy books that mix religion with magic.  But this book did it just perfectly–magic somehow became miracles, and the beauty of believing in God was not at all belittled or mocked; in fact, it was an important part of the tale.

By all means, find and read this book.  I will definitely be looking up more books by Elizabeth Goudge in the future!

5/5.